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Rum attracts 10,000 visitors a year, but why are so few of them from Scotland?

Alex Mumford moved to Rum in 2020. Picture by Jason Hedges
Alex Mumford moved to Rum in 2020. Picture by Jason Hedges

Before he moved from Bristol to start a new life, Alex Mumford had never visited Rum.

It’s something he discovered he shares with people who stay much closer to the island.

Pre-lockdown, around 10,000 visitors a year headed to the largest of the Small Isles, but very few of them were near neighbours from the mainland.

As restrictions continue to ease, islanders are making efforts to attract more local staycationers and day trippers.

Untapped markets on Rum

Alex moved to Rum in 2020 with partner Buffy Cracknell after securing one of four new homes made available to attract new residents and help sustain the 32-strong population.

He is now the island’s visitor services manager, which includes running the newly-refurbished bunkhouse.

“You see Rum in a lot of pictures from other islands, but we don’t get a lot of people coming across to see what we’ve got, particularly people who live nearby.

“There are a lot of untapped markets here. One of them is getting more day trippers here and also encouraging people to stay longer and have a holiday on the island.

Rum attracts 10,000 visitors a year, but few of them local

“Once people come here they fall in love with the place.”

The bunkhouse, with 20 beds and cabins that sleep eight, was upgraded using Covid recovery money which will also create new interpretation in the visitor centre.

This year Alex has introduced a year-round events calendar for the island’s visitors from near and far.

A stargazing weekend will be followed by activities around sea kayaking, yoga and foraging.

Refurbished bunkhouse is busy

A food and craft beer event is planned, as is a visit by folk singer-songwriter Iona Lane on a tour to launch her album, Hallival, named after one of Rum’s mountains which inspired the opening track Western Tidal Swell.

The bunkhouse is filling quickly between March and November and Alex hopes to rent out the accommodation during the traditionally quieter winter months.

“There is plenty to do here,” he says. “There’s the sandy beaches, the flora and fauna, the mountains, the walks.

“Not many islands have the mountains and the sandy beaches within walking distance. Generally, there are no cars, so it’s almost going back in time.

Rum community centre is a popular attraction for visitors. Picture by Jason Hedges

“Before we moved here, I didn’t know anything about the place.

“We were told the island needed mainland eyes, people seeing it for the first time and suggesting things others may not notice.

“Now, one of the best parts of my job is giving people information about where we live.”

Raising awareness of  Rum

Rum lies some 15 miles from the mainland and an 80-minute ferry trip from Mallaig, five times a week in summer.

The infrequency of ferries, unpredictable weather and easier access to other islands such as Skye are cited as reasons for Rum missing out on local visitors.

But NatureScot, which owns the nature reserve that covers much of the 41 square miles landmass, and the Isle of Rum Community Trust, which owns the main settlement of Kinloch, are keen to change trends.

They recently held a ‘familiarisation’ day attended by local groups to raise awareness of what is on offer.

The Rum ponies are a popular attraction on the island. Picture by Jason Hedges

Rum’s history dates to the early Stone Age settlers, and its long-term residents include golden and sea eagles, one of the world’s largest populations of manx shearwater, a herd of red deer and feral goats.

It is renowned for its wild landscape and is of national and international importance for both its geology and its wildlife.

A thriving craft scene, along with busy community centre, cafe and general store, provide facilities for visitors on wildlife watches, nature walks and mountain bike treks.

A popular 16-mile round trip takes walkers to Harris, site of a mausoleum to Sir George Bullough, who owned the island and built Kinloch Castle, and the famous Rum ponies who still work in the hills.

More visitor accommodation

The area will soon have more visitor accommodation. The community trust is recruiting volunteers to help with the eco-restoration of Harris Lodge, eight miles from its nearest inhabited house.

Once a 19th century sporting lodge, the cottage is in a serious state of disrepair.

It is hoped high-quality visitor accommodation would provide the community with income to help in the running of Kinloch village and to support the development of similar projects.

Susan Luurtsema, nature reserves adviser for NatureScot, said: “Everyone is welcome to visit Rum National Nature Reserve, an internationally important wildlife reserve.

Fliss Fraser runs a craft shop on Rum. Picture by Jason Hedges.

“People might not be aware of the wealth of rich nature and landscape that’s available to explore.

“The island’s rugged mountains, sweeping glens and dramatic coast are home to iconic Scottish wildlife.

“You will find plenty that matches your interests and abilities, with unique scenery, great walking, world-class wildlife, archaeology and history.”

Guest house and craft shop owner Fliss Fraser hopes Rum can benefit from efforts to promote all the Small Isles.

Hopes that visitor numbers will pick up again

She said: “We’re trying to provide as much as we can for visitors. People came here after lockdown and we hope that will pick up again.

“But a lot of people even in Mallaig have never been to Rum, although they look at it every day.”

Kim Taylor runs Kim’s Cafe in the island community centre. She says recently-installed moorings have increased visits from yachts, but local visitors are in short supply.

“If more people come it will inject more money into the community and local businesses,” she said.

Kim Taylor runs the cafe in the island community centre. Picture by Jason Hedges

“We get lots of people coming here, but they are from further afield. We don’t really get locals from other parts of Scotland.

“A lot of the problem is that people don’t know what’s here.

“Also, places like Eigg have everything in one area so visitors don’t have to go far.

“Here, you have to walk to get places. I don’t know if that’s a bit of an issue for some people.”

She uses her second job, as a BT fault service technician, dealing with customers all over Britain from her home on the island, for some extra island marketing.

Promoting the outdoors

“Once they know I’m based in Rum, it’s a whole different conversation. People tell me they are Googling it while they are talking to me.

“It may encourage them to visit.”

Brian Sharp, a content producer for Outdoor Capital of the UK, Lochaber Chamber of Commerce’s destination brand, attended the recent familiarisation day.

He said: “You hear a lot about Rum, it’s such a well-known island, but no one really goes there or it’s a very specific experience they’re going for.

“That is largely down to landscape. It is amazing and wild, but the land is quite tough and challenging and the accessibility is not quite there.”

Brian Sharp says outdoor events could attract more visitors. Picture by Jason Hedges

But he says Rum can benefit from outdoor activities and events and was impressed with the programme planned around the bunkhouse.

“These are definitely the types of things the Outdoor Capital is looking to engage with.

“We certainly want to work with the amazing businesses that bring value to the area and make people want to visit.”